Thursday, July 27, 2017

Legal Housekeeping for College Students & Their Families

There's a lot to think about when your kid goes off to college. In the scramble to take care of the big things -- packing, shopping for dorm decor, negotiating travel logistics, trying not to have a nervous breakdown -- it's easy to forget some of the less exciting but nonetheless essential signing advanced health care directives.

When kids turn 18, they are legal adults, which means that parents lose the legal authority to make decisions for them. You won't legally be able to access their medical, academic or financial information or represent them in these areas. Should the student have an accident or become otherwise incapacitated, you won't be able to act on their behalf unless documentation is in place. You may not be even be able to get information from hospitals about their condition in the event of an emergency.

You'll need the following to be able to continue to assist your kid with regard to medical and financial information and decisions: 

Durable Power of Attorney
This document will able you to act of behalf of your adult child in legal and financial matters without them losing any ability to act on their own. It gives you the ability to do things such as pay bills, apply for loans, and access or transfer funds, which can be useful if your child is studying abroad, sick or injured, or just overwhelmed with school work and in need of some help managing his/her affairs. This document can be drafted to become effective immediately upon signing and can be revoked at any time, as long as the adult child isn't under a disability. 

Advanced Health Care Directive
If your adult child has an accident or other health emergency and is incapacitated, this document gives you the authority to make decisions on their behalf. It can also include information about the child's wishes regarding organ donation and end of life decisions. A HIPAA waiver will give you access to your child's medical records so you are able to make informed decisions regarding care. 

You might also consider as a separate document an Advanced Directive for mental health care, which would enable you to make decisions and direct care for your child should they experience a mental disability and need you to represent them. 

FERPA Release 
Parents are sometimes surprised to learn that they are not able to speak to colleges to discuss their adult child's grades and academic progress. A FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) form must be signed for you to access records and talk to colleges about your child. The forms may be requested from colleges. 

While most families see the benefit of advanced health care directives and durable powers of attorney, the FERPA release can be tricky. Should students have privacy regarding their academic records and progress? Is it healthy/valuable for parents to monitor adult children in this way? At what point do students become responsible for their own educations? 

While we all hope there will never be a need to intervene in a medical or legal situation on behalf of our children, for many families, knowing that you do have the ability to make decisions and direct care in an emergency is comforting. Clearly, whether or not to create these documents is a decision that should be made only after clear discussion and agreement between parents and adult children. For young adults, privacy is often a sticky subject, and it may be difficult for them to see the benefit of what may, on the surface, look like intrusion into their new adulthood. 

Regardless of what you and your child decide, this is a worthwhile conversation about issues that all responsible adults should address. None of us can predict the future, and thorny situations and emergencies unfortunately do arise. Investing a small amount of time and energy now can enable you to contribute to your child's well being in critical times, and by negotiating and navigating the process, they'll take another small step on their path to becoming a grown up.